When you are looking for a pistol to carry, no matter how you are intending to carry, or what, you need to keep your budget flexible enough to buy a quality holster. Not everyone intends to get, or even needs a holster, for reasons such as having a collectible gun or just a range toy. Holsters are about as important as the gun itself when it comes to carry, whether it is open or concealed carry. Unfortunately, there is no person that can tell you what style of carry is good for you, or what type of holster is “good.” There are too many different types of carry positions and methods, requiring different types of holsters, which may generally be considered crap.
Generally the only thing you need the holster to do is not fall apart when your carrying it, stay put, and retain the pistol so it doesn’t just fall out of the holster and onto the ground. Other than these things, finding a good holster actually requires a little more homework than looking at reviews on eBay. You need to make decisions and a little research about your options. No one can just tell you which holster is good or bad, because that is up to you to decide based on your needs and your budget. Some things you will need to decide can dictate the specific type of pistol you get, the caliber you get, the position you choose, and finally it will narrow the selection of holsters for you to choose from. This is just a method that I have found to work when looking for the best holster for me when I carry.
When looking for a good holster, there are so many different types of holsters for different methods of carry that you need to go through and decide on. The unfortunate thing is that the only real way to find a good holster is to decide what method of carry is going to suit your needs, universally hopefully, and then try out the different holsters made to suit that method. This is not exactly feasible when considering that very few people can afford to buy a crap ton of holsters and then try them all for a while before deciding which method they are fastest and most universally efficient. When I mention “universal,” I am talking about being able to use the holster in almost all types of dress, seasons, guns, situations (drawing from the crouched position, on the back, one handed), etc. I myself have spent a long time and money going around to different types of holsters, trying to find the best one. The thing that made it easier is that I chose the method that I feel is universal in nature to my lifestyle and my understanding of what I will be up against.
METHODS OF CARRY
When looking at methods of carry, there are a couple of subjects to cover and evaluate. First thing to look at is the pistol selection(s). This is basically deciding whether your pistol sizes will vary, or if you are just gonna use one year around. This can decide a couple of things, such as your carry position(s), the caliber even, and the type and variety of holsters and holster constructions you will have to decide between. This is a big thing that you need to research and decide on before going forward to deciding the position you are going to carry in.
Finding your preferred method of carry is the first step to narrowing down the list of holsters to try out. There are several different methods of carry to consider and decide on for. I always recommend finding a holster that works universally for your lifestyle. First thing to consider is what your routine is going to be for carrying. For instance, I choose the size of my pistol based on the type of clothing I will be wearing that season. This means that I will carry a bigger pistol in the winter since the layers of clothing can typically help conceal the larger profile of the pistol. Then I will typically carry a smaller gun in the summer due to the weather restricting the amount of layers I can afford for concealment. The downside to this is that you need to retrain for the different guns, but not for the different carry location if you keep it the same. Also there is the consideration that you will need to spend the money on the different holsters for the guns you will be carrying during the different seasons, but will have much more flexibility in calibers to choose between. You may even decide to shift the location or position that you carry as you go to a bigger or smaller pistol.
Or you may just want to carry one gun year around, and therefore you can typically just get one holster. You save money in the long run and don’t have to spend time retraining, but you do lose the ability to raise your round count in your carry pistol, which many people find to be desirable. Another thing to consider is the fact that one sized gun may not actually be small enough to carry all year around. In some hot climates, a thin T-shirt isn’t going to do much to prevent printing with your Glock 26, even with “good holsters.” This decision can restrict the calibers you have to choose from since some smaller guns may not offer your desired caliber, or the size of the pistol will just make shooting that caliber unpleasant.
POSITIONS OF CARRY
The positions that you will carry your pistol in is arguably the most important decision to make. This decision can narrow down the types of holsters to just a specific list of brands, or even lengthen your list of holster types and brands to choose from. As an important note, some positions can be generally impractical and challenging to perfect an efficient method of a timely draw. But this is half the adventure, right? You may wish to practice a few positions to see if they fit your needs, but this may not be doable if you don’t have somewhere that you can try out holsters. Just keep in mind that the positions you have to choose from may be dictated by the specific pistol you choose. Larger pistols typically won’t allow the same versatility in holsters and positions of carry as smaller pistols will. I do not follow the normal cliche of thinking only inside and outside the waistband are options. I believe that you should carry how you can carry, and that may not fit the current trends. So here is a few of the carry positions some people use, and a brief evaluation of each. But these are just my opinions for the most part. You have to decide if you agree or not.
One of the most universal and popular positions to carry, and also my preferred position. You can carry any sized gun on your hip, through all seasons for the most part, depending on how tight you wear your shirts. This is one of the positions of carry that is going to be very good for open carry, as well as concealed carry. The retention capabilities from the hip are pretty good, but not quite the best. This position offers very good speed and is a very natural position to draw from. You have a lot of movement flexibility without the risk of printing with this method, depending on the size of the gun and the clothing you are wearing. I also find it to be very conducive to one-handed draws. The downside of the this position is that now you have a few more things to decide on, such as specific construction, types of holsters, and brands.
This position is very popular and is almost like carrying on the hip, but pushed back more to where it is almost right over your back pocket. This, just like the hip carry method opens up your selection of holster types, constructions, and brands, but gives you a greater flexibility in sizes you can carry. The retention on this position is not very good since and gun grab attempt is going to start out of your line of sight and the gun can be grabbed without you being able to immediately resist it. The draw on this method is very unnatural to do and it is far from universal. It also can be very uncomfortable and print a good amount when just sitting or even bending over. This would only be a method to use primarily in a concealed carry role, unless you are fine with open carrying a pistol that is beyond your ability to retain from an attempted gun grab. The main goal and theory behind this position of carry is to conceal the pistol slightly better, but it doesn’t exactly have very many endearing qualities compared to other positions.
Small Of Back Carry
This method is probably a combination of the hardest, most unnatural position to draw from, let alone being the most dangerous. This position places the pistol right at the middle of your back, on your holster either vertically with the grip facing either direction so you have to draw with your palm faced outwards or inward. This, like the above methods, leaves your option of holsters open wide. There are also holsters out there that are for this method, but so you can carry the pistol horizontally with the grip facing up or down. This slightly narrows your selection of holsters to specific brands, but does not restrict your pistol options. Some people like to open carry in this fashion, but the retention on this position is the lowest for obvious reasons. This would be a very uncomfortable way to carry in a vehicle. This position generally has few practical applications but is a recognized for of carry nonetheless.
This position of carry puts the pistol on either side of your pants button, with the grip facing towards the rear, or closest hip. This has become popular in recent years, for very vague and unrealistic reasons.This method generally is good if you wanna carry in a hoody or a baggy shirt, but becomes impractical with bigger pistols and smaller shirts. The retention is the highest for IWB(inside the waistband carry), which is the only type of carry I have seen guns put in this position. This does narrow down the types of holsters you need to research a good amount, but still leaves a good sized list to go over. The draw on the this position typically requires two hands and very rarely do you see people pulling a one handed draw off as fast as someone who hip carries. That said, it is claimed that this method affords very fast draws, which is highly debatable, seeing as it depends on what position your body is in at the time. This is very uncomfortable to carry when sitting or when bending over, but as long as your pistol doesn’t have too long of a grip, you should be able to conceal well. Us guys just need to be careful to not pull out stomach hairs during the draw.
This position of carry is probably only seen in movies, but I do know that it is recognized as a carry position. With this position, the pistol is just as the name implies and it is on the opposite side of your firing hand, with the grip facing back towards your shooting hand, offering a slightly natural grip on the draw. The retention of this position is very similar to hip carry and isn’t really that bad. It is not a very easy draw to get used to, and would be most likely restrictive to two handed draws, and it will be slow and need much practice. This position can be awkward and very similar to the appendix carry as far as printing. Even with smaller guns, you may print a fair amount. This may not be too uncomfortable if the pistol is directly on the hip, but typically the pistol is slightly forward to ease the draw. The list of holster options, just as the previously mentioned positions, is long.
One of the most versatile positions of carry and the most versatile, but can be dangerous if carelessly used. This position simply means you have the pistol pocketed in whatever pocket you wish, even a thigh pocket on cargo pants. You definitely do want a holster in the pocket due to the danger of an accidental discharge. With this position, you simply need to look specifically at pocket carry holsters, and make sure your pistol is small enough not to print or pull your pants down while carrying. This means that you’re going to be restricted on the size and caliber that you can carry. In general, printing is not much of an issue if you have the right holster that helps disrupt the profile of the pistol. This is probably the best position and to use year around. Drawing from the pocket will take some practice to prevent snagging.That being said, retention of the pistol is pretty good in this position, pretty much no matter which pocket you use, unless it is in a back pocket. As usual, you need to practice and train with this method.
This method of carry uses only two types of holsters, but still requires you to choose a brand and position of vertical or horizontal. there are shirts that some companies make that have pockets under the armpit for small pistols to be carried. Then of course you have the classic shoulder holster system with or without the spare mag(s) on the opposite side. This is actually a good position for carrying is you are just around the house or out in the middle of nowhere hiking due to how comfortable it is. It isn’t exactly the best all year around system but it doesn’t restrict you on pistol size or caliber. I don’t see it being a good position for open carry, but that is up to you. The retention on this method is very good, but needs practice on the draw in order to be quick and efficient.
This position is typically reserved for a backup gun, but I know there are some situations where this would be the best place to conceal a pistol. This position is most often employed by strapping the pistol around the ankle on the inside of the leg opposite your shooting hand. This method is not going to allow you to get away with carrying a full sized, or even a compact pistol. You are going to be restricted to a subcompact, or preferably a single stack. Weight can be a huge factor here unless you like the idea of feeling like your dragging around a lead ingot on your ankle. The holster selection is again limited and you are down to selecting a construction and a brand. Since this is usually a position that is so far from reach, retention is a hard thing to judge, but distance is never really your friend in the case of a quick response. Due to the need for a good retention system for this position, drawing can take practice to get to the point that you aren’t risking shooting yourself in the foot. Again, this is better reserved for a backup pistol. I would say that this position would work well in a business suit though, but size is a big factor and printing can be easy if you think you need a pinky on the gun(you never really do) in order to control it. This means you are relatively limited in the caliber you want to carry, and this ends up not working out in most warm climates year around.
Holsters will vary in construction and there are several different types of holsters to choose from. For IWB carry, no matter the position, you have a choice between leather, Kydex(thermoplastic polymer), and even nylon. The materials used to make the holster may have some influence on the price or the comfort of carrying that pistol. From there, you can decide on a retention system and then a brand. A retention system is vital whether it is a thumb break strap or a friction fit, it needs to at least be able to hold your pistol in while jogging and jumping. Also you want to make sure that the holster isn’t going to wander too much while moving around throughout the day.
Kydex is rapidly growing in fashion, and for good reason. It is durable, lightweight, easy to maintain, isn’t sensitive to the elements, and can be molded to your pistols shape without the need for “fitting.” There are outside the waistband holsters with simple retention devices, which have gained Kydex holsters the reputation for being very fast on the draw. An example of this would be the Serpa holsters, and the Safariland holsters, much preferred by Law Enforcement and military across the world. These types of holsters can be expensive in some cases, in the range of $50-$100.
Some Kydex holsters are very simple and you will typically find them for about $30 on eBay, made by some guy in his garage, who has made a private business of it. You can find many inside and outside the waistband carry holsters out there with no retention straps or mechanisms. Usually this just means that the pistols are held in with what’s called a friction fit, and you can adjust the tension on these holsters by tightening or loosening screws on the perimeter of the holster. Also a cool thing about Kydex holsters is the fact that you can make your own if you have the kit and supplies to do so. This can allow you to make all the holsters you want and will no doubt save a considerable amount of money.
Kydex is a very good option for inside and outside the waistband carry, and is gaining in popularity for the quality it offers. I know there are some companies that make Kydex holsters for other types of carry to include shoulder carry, and ankle carry, but they are hard to find at the moment, in most cases.
This material is very popular, even to this day, and for good reason. Leather holsters are still regarded as some of the best holsters you can get, which as usual is debatable. These types of holsters almost always come at a premium and can run over $100 in most cases. Leather, well taken care of, will last for a long time through hard use. But they are susceptible to the elements and tend to soak up sweat and moisture. This over time will cause it to stretch, weaken, and degrade.
There are companies that coat the leather to try and extend the life of the holster, but it all depends on the conditions it is being used in. Leather can also be thick and tends to need to be treated in order to help it last. Some leather holsters need you to heat the leather and shove your pistol in it in order to help the leather form to the pistol better, which is not typically ideal. I like my holsters to come ready to carry. I feel that if you are spending good money on their holsters, the least they could do is make sure the gun fits and the holster is ready for me to use.
It would seem that it all comes down to preference and just deciding what you can live with. Leather sure is a classic and it is still popular and running strong to this day. There are as many leather holster manufacturers as there are days in a year and they do many different types of guns, services, and styles to suit your needs.
The combination of Kydex and Leather, in my opinion is a terrific combination and makes for some of the best concealed carry holsters on the market. These types of holsters are typically only going to be inside the waistband and concealed. These holsters use a big leather pad with a kydex shell, with two clips. This makes the holster very secure and prevents a good amount of the movement you may otherwise have to deal with with other types of holster designs. You can even tuck in your shirt over these holsters with some brands.
The Kydex shell can sometimes be tightened or loosened to give the pistol a more desirable friction fit per your preference. Generally the tighter the fit, the more retention and harder it is to draw. Some of these holsters will still require molding to the body and the gun. Then others like Alien Gear holsters, do not require any forming or anything, and are ready to go right away. The prices for these holsters probably have the greatest deviation of any other type of holster on the market. For an Aliengear holster, you can pay a flat rate of about $25 no matter the gun, whereas some of the holsters that still require a break in and forming will sometimes cost up to $80. In many cases, you will be charged depending on the gun they are making the holster for, and can even be boosted to over $100.
Often used for ankle and pocket carry, nylon is flexible and typically has a good lifespan with a very fair price tag at about $20-$30. The issue with them is that the weave can fray and wear with extended usage, or become solid after being stored away in a humid climate for a time. There are several companies that make good holsters made out of nylon, and for a good and fair price, such as Uncle Mikes. In general these holsters are not necessarily bad, but usually they are used to make outside the waistband open carry holsters with different methods of retention, from a band wrapping around the back of the pistol, to a thumb-break button. Ankle and shoulder holsters use nylon as well, but these types of carry positions are generally better suited for nylon being that it is light and flexible. Outside and inside the waistband holsters typically take more of a beating over time.
When you have narrowed down the way your going to carry, the position, and the materials, you are ready to choose a brand. All I can tell you is that you are going to spend most of your time looking at brands. I will just provide you with a few criteria that will help you find a good holster for you.
-Durability/ Preparation time (If needed)
-Price(They shouldn’t charge more for certain pistols)
I know that this seems like a huge amount of stuff to have to think about and decide on, but I assure you that it isn’t that big of a deal as long as you know what your dealing with. I was not able to cover every single position and method of carry in this article due to the huge list of methods being used everyday. There are a million and one ways to carry a gun and numerous combinations that will make your head spin. You just need to find out what works for you. I encourage you to remember that universal application, durability, and price are the biggest factors when looking for a good holster. No since in paying $30 extra for a holster that needs more work, and has less options and a terrible warranty, with shady service. In the end, there is no one holster that is “The Best” for everything. But for your specific method of carry, you can decide for yourself what holster YOU think is a good holster.
writes for Spotter Up. He served in the USMC for a few years. Deployed twice and got wounded. Retired and moved to Alaska. Has a passion for reviewing and testing guns and gear of all kinds. Enjoys working to dispel myths and show that you can train and practice in a realistic, safe, and practical way.